Monday, October 25, 2010

Oy Ve! :: Ne Forte Credas :: IV:9

Quoi qu’un Poète de Cour ne fasse guere conscience de donner aux gens les éloges dont ils sont reconnus indignes, il faut croire qu’Horace se régle ici sur les apparences, c’est-à-dire, qu’il proportionne ses éloges à l’estime où celui qu’il loue étoit alors; car nous apprenons d’un célèbre Historien que ce Lollius cachoit admirablement ses mauvaises qualitez. —Bayle, Pierre. Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, 1740.

Some say this ode was written to Marcus Lollius Paulinus, a general, a consul of 21 BC, who fell from grace. He was accused of exortion and treachery to the state. He took poison. Because of this, others say this ode is addressed to Lollius’ son,  Lollius, Jr. But I don’t buy the son angle. This ode is about Lollius, Sr., the general, the extortionist, the traitor.

Maybe Horace was friends with Lollius. Maybe, because Caesar Augustus found Lollius ‘favorable,’ Horace did, too. But when this poem was written, say the year 13 BC, Lollius had already suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Germans, which came to be known as the clades lolliana ‘the slaughter of Lollius,’ which took place in 16 BC. Other aspects of Lollius’ less than exemplary character were also starting to surface at the time this poem was written. Some knew what Lollius was up to. Maybe Horace did as well.

In my last blog, I mentioned that poets are sly with words. Words are their weapons either for defense or attack. Poets are never direct; at least, the good ones are not. Out of their pens purposely come slippery words, eels of meaning that defy capture.

Perhaps, in this ode, Horace is praising Lollius as well as condemning him.

Lines 1-4 are in praise of Horace’s own poetic prowess.

The next 24 lines are about how poetry trumps time and how, without the poet’s voice, we can only assume that before Agamemnon, there were other heros whose deeds were worthy of poems of praise but alas, they have perished inlacrimabiles, unmourned.

Now at line 29, we arrive at the crux of the poem, I think.

Paulum sepultae distat 
inertiae celata virtus.
Little separates hidden virtue 
from buried inertia. 

What ‘inertia’ means is hard to discern: unskillfulness, laziness, inactivity, ignorance. Obviously, inertia is the opposite of virtus: manliness and all that goes with being full of testosterone. Since this is the highest good, virtus, by extension is power, goodness, courage, fortitude, and moral perfection. 
Perhaps the line means something like:

Little separates hidden manliness 
from cowardice buried.

Once you’re gone, and there is no one to tell your tale, who knows what kind of person you were? So Horace steps in to say that he will tell the tale. But he does so in a way that leaves the reader doubting what he is up to.

non ego te meis chartis inornatum silebo, 
totve tuos patiar labores impune, 
Lolli, carpere lividas obliviones. [lines 30–34]

I won’t be silent about unornamented you 
in my pages, or I won’t let, Lollius, 
black oblivion snatch away 
your labors with impunity.

I suppose the real meaning depended on the intonation Horace used in reciting this ode, just as the phrase, ‘I won’t let anyone ever forget what you did’ could be used to thank a person for his kindness or threaten him with exposure.

But clever Horace goes on in lines 34–44 to praise Lollius by talking about his prudence and rectitude, even putting a good spin on his defeat:

per obstantis catervas 
explicuit sua victor arma
by the opposing troops 
the victor laid out his weapons

What were ‘his weapons’?  His virtue and honesty? But these will be defeated as well by Lollius’ own hypocrisy, just as his armies were defeated in Germany. 

Now Lollius was also one of the richest men of Rome. He had amassed an enormous fortune; so, are lines 45–49 a rebuke, or are they the usual Horace praising his own simple life?

Then comes a surprising statement in the last few lines:

leto flagitium timet, non ille pro 
caris amicis aut patria timidus perire
he [who has little] fears disgrace to death; 
he [is] unafraid to perish 
for his dear friends and his country.

Now Horace died in 8 BC. Lollius commited suicide in 2 AD. What was Horace suggesting? Surely the double meaning was not lost. What did Lollius think? Was Horace merely mentioning some platitude about honor and death or was he suggesting a way out of the calumnies whispered behind Caesar Augustus’ back? We will never know.

What we do know is that this poem is brilliantly nuanced and brilliantly constructed, as Horace balances his “praise” for Lollius on the repeated use of ve ‘or.’ Ve seems to add to the uncertainty of meaning in the poem. Then there is the last word perire, ‘perish.’ Not only does it hang ominously at the end of the ode, but it brings us back to the beginning and the dominant word of the first line: interitura ‘about to perish.’ Thus oblivion swirls throughout this poem, menacing us all. There is no way to stave off the inevitable save through the poet’s pen, and even that pillar of Horace’s thought has all but crumbled to dust.  


Horace was from a region in Italy where the Aufidus [Ofanto] River flows; Homer was from Maeonia. The Greek lyric poets mentioned are Pindar [c522–443 BC] and Simonides [c556–468 BC], born in Ceos, one of the Cyclades Islands, Alcaeus [c620–6th century BC], Stesichorus [c640–555 BC], and Anacreon 9570–488 BC]. Aeolia refers to, among other things, Lesbos, where Sappho [c620–670BC] was born. I directly transfered the Latin expression altus voltus, ‘high face’ into English, thinking that its sense is clear. Teucer was a Greek hero and remarkable archer. Even so, at one point in the Trojan War, every arrow he shot at Hector was foiled by Hector’s protector, Apollo.  Idomeneus was a Cretan warrior and suiter of Helen. Sthenelus was one of the men who hid in the Trojan Horse. Deiphobus was a Trojan prince and Hector’s brother.


Do not think they will perish, these words I, 
born by the far-sounding Ofanto, speak—
words not mated before by the known arts 
to lyric strings.

Even if Homer of Maeonia 
ranks first, the muses aren't hiding Pindar or 
Ceos, threatening Alcaeus, dignifying

No, if time destroys what Anacreon 
once played, there still breathes the love and lives the 
passions entrusted to the maiden with 
the Aeolian lyre. 

Helen of Lacaena's not the only 
one to burn for her lover's well-groomed hair,
amazed by his gold-smeared clothes, his pomp 
and royal friends.

And Teucer—not the first to shoot arrows 
from a Cyprian bow. Troy—not sacked once. 
Nor did great Idomeneus or lone 
Sthenelus fight 

a fight worthy of a Muse’s song, nor was 
fierce Hector or bitter Deiphobus 
the first to receive mortal blows for their sons 
and chaste wives.

There lived strong ones before Agamemnon—
many, but all are assailed by the 
long night, unmourned, unknown, for they have no
sacred poet.

Little separates hidden virtue from 
buried cowardess. I shall not keep still 
about you, uncelebrated in my papers, 
nor will I let 

dark oblivion, Lollius, just pluck 
off your many deeds. You have a mind skilled 
in things of the state, upright, whether in 
good times or bad. 

Avenger of the crimes of the greedy, 
declining to amass personal wealth,
consul not for one year, but how often 
a good and trusting

judge who puts the honest man before the 
useful, rejects with a high face the gifts of the guilty,
and displays his arms, victor, before the 
opposing troops. 

You’d be right to call a man who doesn’t 
have much ‘blessed’; he more rightly takes the name 
'blessed one' who wisely knows how to use the 
gifts of the gods 

and who’s been toughened up by suffering 
hard poverty, who fears disgrace worse than 
death, who is not afraid to die for dear
friends and country.
translation © 2010 by James Rumford

in prose:

Ne forte credas verba, quae ‹ad Aufidum longe sonantem natus› loquor interitura, [verba] chordis socianda per ‹artes non ante vulgatas›. 
Si Homerus Maeonius sedes priores tenet, Camenae Pindaricae Ceaeque et [Camenae] minaces Alcaei [Camenae]ve graves Stesichori non latent, nec si aetas delevit quid olim Anacreon lusit. Amor adhuc spirat, vivuntque ‹calores fidibus commissi› puellae Aeoliae. 
Non sola Helene Lacaena crines comptos adulteri arsit et aurum [in] vestibus illitum cultusque regal[e]s et comites mirata [est]. 
[Non] Teucerve primus tela arcu Cydonio direxit. 
Non semel Ilios vexata [est]. 
Non Idomeneus ingens Sthenelusve solus proelia [a] musis dicenda pugnavit. 
Non Hector ferox vel Deiphobus acer ictus graves primus pro coniugibus pudicis puerisque excepit. Ante Agamemnona multi fortes vixer[unt]; sed omnes illacrimabiles ignotique nocte longa urgentur, quia vate sacro carent. 
Virtus celata inertiae sepultae paullum distat. 
Non ego ‹te inornatum› chartis meis silebo, totve labores tuos impune, [o] Lolli, obliviones lividas carpere patiar. 
Animus prudens tibi est. Rerumque et temporibus secundis dubiisque rectus [es]. Vindex avarae fraudis [es] et ‹pecuniae ad se cuncta ducentis› abstinens. Consulque non unius anni sed
quotiens [es]. 
[Lollius], iudex ‹bonus atque fidus› honestum utili praetulit. Vultu alto dona nocentium reiecit. Victor per catervas obstantes arma sua explicuit. 
[Tu hominem] beatum multa non possidentem recte vocaveris. Nomen beati rectius occupat [eum] qui sapienter muneribus deorum uti. Calletque pauperiem duram pati. Flagitiumque leto peius timet. Non ille timidus pro amicis caris aut patria perire. [revised March 28, 2015]

original ode:

Nē forte crēdās interitūra quae
longē sonantem nātus ad Aufidum
   nōn ante vulgātās per artıs
       verba loquor socianda chordīs:
nōn, sī priōrēs Maeonius tenet
sēdēs Homērus, Pindaricae latent
   Cēaeque et Alcaeī minācēs
        Stēsichorīve gravēs Camēnae;
nec sī quid ōlim lūsit Anācreōn,
dēlēvit aetās; spīrat adhuc amor
   vīvuntque commissī calōrēs
       Aeoliae fīdibus puellae.
nōn sōla comptōs arsit adulterī
crīnıs et aurum vestibus illitum
   mīrāta rēgālısque cultūs
       et comitēs Helenē Lacaena
prīmusve Teucer tēla Cydōniō
dīrexit arcū; nōn semel īliōs
   vexāta; nōn pugnāvit ingēns
       īdomenēus Sthenelusve sōlus
dīcenda Mūsīs proelia; nōn ferox
Hector vel ācer Dēiphobus gravıs
   excepit ictus prō pudīcīs
       coniugibus puerīsque prīmus.
vixēre fortēs ante Agamemnona
multī; sed omnēs illacrimābilesve~
   urgentur ignōtīque longā
       nocte, carent quia vāte sācrō.
paulum sepultae distat inertiae
cēlāta virtus. nōn ego tē meīs
   chartīs inornātum silēbō
       tōtve tuōs patiar labōrēs
impūne, Lollī, carpere līvidās
oblīviōnēs. est animus tibi
   rērumque prūdēns et secundīs
       temporibus dubiīsque rectus,
vindex avārae fraudis et abstinēns
dūcentis ad sē cuncta pecūniae,
   consulque nōn ūnīus annī,
        sed quotiēns bonus atque fīdus
iūdex honestum praetulit ūtilī,
reiēcit altō dōna nocentium
   vultū, per obstantıs catervās
       explicuit sua victor arma.
nōn possidentem multa vocāveris
rectē beātum; rectius occupat
   nōmen beātī, quī deōrum
        mūneribus sapienter ūtī
dūramque callet pauperiem patī
pēiusque lētō flāgitium timet,
   nōn ille prō cārīs amīcīs
       aut patriā timidus perīre.

:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetizedfor $11.50 at 

For a Latin translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at $12, click here: 

To find out more about Carpe Diem go to the blog of March 26, 2015; 
for more about Pericla Thomae Sawyer, go to the blog of November 22, 2016.

1 comment:

  1. This is great - I was looking up the history of a quote: "dare to be wise" (Dimidium facti qui coepit habet; sapere aude; incipe). Although I have an adequate knowledge of Kants adoption, I wanted to know more about who coined the term and especially in what context it was used. You have saved me a trip to the library! much obliged :)